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In 1990, four years after the extension of compulsory education to the 9th grade (1986), half of the Portuguese students left school with only basic education, and often incomplete. In 2019, only 10.6% left school without completing secondary education.

Despite the significant progress, more than one in ten Portuguese do not complete compulsory education.

In 2004, the percentage of early school-leavers aged 18 to 24 was still very high (40%)—the highest among all European Member States, following Spain. By 2018, however, Portugal's average was lower than Spain's.

Countries like Finland and Greece were below the European average, while Italy and Iceland had lower school dropout rates than Portugal.

It was not until 2010-2015 that Portugal saw a marked decline in school dropout rates, which almost halved between 2011-2015. One of the measures with a more significant impact on students' paths was the replacement of Education and Training Courses (CEF) by Vocational Courses. Not only did Vocational Courses kept Portuguese students attending school, they also increased their accredited knowledge in 2015, with an increase of 90 points in the PISAS's category in which they replaced the CEF (Education and Training Courses).

Monitoring the schooling situation in the 18-24 age group is decisive to assess whether the implemented educational policies to increase the schooling of the Portuguese population have the intended impact. The downward trajectory in the percentage of the population aged 25 to 34 without secondary education is explained by the early school leaving rate among students in the immediately subsequent age-group (i.e. the estimated age for completing upper secondary education). In Portugal, the early school leaving rate — or the Early Leaving from Education and Training (ELET) rate, as currently designated — settled at 10.6% in 2019, coming closer to the European target of 10% set for 2020.

To maintain the downward trend of early school leaving, education policies must focus on capturing those students who have been, historically, leaving school without completing upper secondary education. The offer of training programmes for adults and young people who are already integrated into the labour market also contributes to lower these numbers and ensure that the rate does not go up again.

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